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Massage for Depression

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Updated May 31, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Massage is sometimes promoted as an alternative treatment for depression, a condition estimated to affect about 20 million Americans. Proponents claim that massage can help ease depression by boosting mood, reducing stress, and improving overall well-being. While there is no evidence that massage alone can treat depressive disorders, some research suggests that receiving massage may benefit certain people struggling with depression.

The Science Behind Massage and Depression

To date, few studies have focused on massage therapy as a treatment for depressive disorders. In fact, a 2008 research review from the International Journal of Clinical Practice identified only four clinical trials testing massage's effects on depression. None of these was able to adequately demonstrate that massage therapy was effective in depression.

However, some research shows that massage may help relieve depression related to other health problems. For example, a 2010 study from Supportive Care In Cancer found that massage reduced depression among women with breast cancer. (The five-week study involved 34 breast cancer patients, each of whom was assigned to either a control group or twice-weekly half-hour massage sessions.) Other studies indicate that massage may also help alleviate depression among people with fibromyalgia and end-stage renal disease.

In addition, there's some evidence that massage may lift depression among pregnant women. In a 2008 study from the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, for instance, 47 depressed pregnant women were assigned to either a control group or twice-weekly massage sessions provided by their partners. At the end of the study, members of the massage group reported less depression, anxiety, and anger.

Should You Use Massage for Depression?

Due to the lack of supporting research, massage cannot be recommended as a treatment for depression. What's more, using massage (or any other mind-body therapy) as a substitute for standard depression treatment may have serious health consequences.

If you're currently experiencing symptoms of depression (such as a persistent feeling of sadness, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, sleep problems, and lack of energy), talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Your physician and/or a mental-health professional may also be able to help you incorporate massage into your depression treatment program.

Sources

Coelho HF, Boddy K, Ernst E. "Massage therapy for the treatment of depression: a systematic review." Int J Clin Pract. 2008 Feb;62(2):325-33.

Krohn M, Listing M, Tjahjono G, Reisshauer A, Peters E, Klapp BF, Rauchfuss M. "Depression, mood, stress, and Th1/Th2 immune balance in primary breast cancer patients undergoing classical massage therapy." Support Care Cancer. 2010 Jul 20.

Cho YC, Tsay SL. "The effect of acupressure with massage on fatigue and depression in patients with end-stage renal disease." J Nurs Res. 2004 Mar;12(1):51-9.

Castro-Sánchez AM, Matarán-Peñarrocha GA, Granero-Molina J, Aguilera-Manrique G, Quesada-Rubio JM, Moreno-Lorenzo C. "Benefits of massage-myofascial release therapy on pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia." Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:561753.

Field T, Figueiredo B, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Deeds O, Ascencio A. "Massage therapy reduces pain in pregnant women, alleviates prenatal depression in both parents and improves their relationships." J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2008 Apr;12(2):146-50.

Field T, Deeds O, Diego M, Hernandez-Reif M, Gauler A, Sullivan S, Wilson D, Nearing G. "Benefits of combining massage therapy with group interpersonal psychotherapy in prenatally depressed women." J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2009 Oct;13(4):297-303.

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